Victorian Government dismisses lived experiences of Aboriginal people in prisons

Mar 7, 2024

CONTENT WARNING: VACCHO advises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that the following article contains distressing accounts of Aboriginal people in prisons.

VACCHO is staggered that the Victorian Government continues to dismiss the inadequate healthcare of Aboriginal people in prisons as they seek to avoid accountability rather than taking responsibility.  

A report released by the Victorian Ombudsman, Investigation into healthcare provision for Aboriginal people in Victorian prisons, found common themes of inadequate mental health, delays in accessing health care, and harmful attitudes held by custodial and healthcare staff. The Ombudsman concluded that the Department of Justice and Community Safety “did not demonstrate a strong understanding of health from an Aboriginal perspective.”

The Department of Justice’s response to the multiple failures of healthcare reported was, however, to question the veracity of experiences shared by Aboriginal people.

In a State that is currently conducting a Truth Telling process through the Yoorrook Justice Commission and, in the months, following a harmful national Vote No campaign that spread mistruths during the 2023 Voice Referendum, VACCHO is bitterly disappointed to see a Government Department continue the cycle of dismissing the lived experience of Aboriginal people in Victoria.

Dr. Jill Gallagher AO, Chief Executive Officer of VACCHO, who also led the Cultural Review of the Adult Correction System for the Department of Justice says she finds it astonishing that this Department rejects testimony given by Aboriginal people as not accurately representing the situation.

“Right now, there is a coronial investigation hearing into how an Aboriginal man in prison who was heard saying “I’m dying”, was seen trying to drink water from a toilet because he was denied water and was left to die as paramedics were called too late.

“The Government cannot brush these away as one-off failures. One person dying is not acceptable. One person being denied treatment is not acceptable. But it’s not just one person.”

“During my review, I heard from dozens of Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people who told me of the same failures and suffering. The Ombudsman backs this up. The Government must act, not cast blame on others.”

“We don’t need another review. We need action. Now.”

VACCHO welcomes the Ombudsman’s recommendations that Aboriginal organisations should be involved in designing health services in custody and to increase the number of Aboriginal health professionals working in prisons.

This was also a recommendation in the 1987 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and that the Victorian Government agreed to develop Aboriginal-led care in prisons as part of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement in 2018.

“While VACCHO welcomes the continued commitment to Aboriginal-led care as a clear solution, the reality is Victoria has delivered yet another report delivering a recommendation that should have been implemented 30 years ago,” says Dr. Gallagher.

“It is now time to act before another member of Community dies in the Victorian prison system.”

VACCHO calls on the Government to provide Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations with the resources and decision-making power to develop this and the Government’s commitment to ensuring an Aboriginal-led, designed and delivered health care model is implemented in every Victorian prison.

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VACCHO is the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing in Victoria – the only one of its kind – with 33 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations as Members. VACCHO Members support over 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria, and combined are the largest employers of Aboriginal people in the state.